One my great heroes of resilience is Terry Fox (1958-1981) a Canadian student who, aged 22, had his right leg amputated following a diagnoses for cancer. Undeterred, Terry made the decision to raise 24 million dollars for cancer research – one dollar for every Canadian citizen. In order to do this Terry made a remarkable decision – he decided to run the entire length of Canada – a distance of over 7,000 kilometres. In order to complete his challenge Terry would have to run the equivalent of a marathon every day until his goal was achieved.
The challenge he undertook, called the Marathon of Hope, would have been a huge achievement for anyone to undertake let alone a young man with a prosthetic limb. Terry’s health was also a concern as the cancer which originally suffered had spread to his chest. Terry knew he was dying and he was in constant pain but he fought on regardless. Unfortunately, the nature of Terry’s illness was such that he eventually had to abandon his Marathon of Hope but not before completing 5,373 kilometres which he did in 143 days. Terry died on 28th June 1981 and to this day over $650 million has been raised in his name. What an extraordinary young man! Despite the numerous obstacles he faced he kept on fighting until the end – a truly resilient individual!
So, what are the main characteristics of resilience and how can these be developed in our daily lives:
- Develop an internal locus of control. The word “locus” simply means “centre”, “point” or “location” of. Everyone has a locus of control and our locus of control is believed to be either internal or external. Those with an external locus of control fundamentally believe that external forces such as fate, luck, other people, etc. ultimately influence and drive the direction their lives take. These beliefs leave them feeling helpless, hopeless and ultimately powerless to do anything to influence the course of their lives. Resilient people have an internal locus of control – they believe they are sitting firmly in the driving seat of their lives and feel able therefore to bounce-back quickly from hardship.
- Develop high self-esteem. This isn’t a question of being self-centred or egotistical. On the contrary, those with high self-esteem simply like themselves – they believe they are a likeable, worthwhile and valuable person. They hold these in high regard with no conditions attached. We are far more likely to bounce-back from adversity if we truly believe we deserve to do so.
- Develop high self-efficacy. It can be difficult motivating ourselves to do something if we don’t believe it is possible. Finding the motivation to pick ourselves up and have another go when we get knocked down is driven largely by how much we believe we are capable of bouncing back.
- Develop good self-awareness and good emotional management. Highly resilient people have a high degree of self-awareness – they understand what makes them tick emotionally and, as such they have the ability to manage their emotions well. Knowing we can deal effectively at an emotional level with adversity means we are more likely cope with adversity whenever it presents itself.
- Develop optimism and hope. Nobody is born a pessimist or an optimist. These are learned behaviours – we learn, in other words to be either pessimistic or to look at events and experiences in an optimistic and hopeful way. Optimism isn’t wishful thinking – optimism is about believing that future events can be dealt with in a helpful, beneficial and effective way. Optimists tend therefore, to engage in life unlike pessimists who view the future negatively and who tend therefore to avoid or seek safety from potentially difficult events or experience.
- Develop positivity and positive emotions. The pleasure we find in life is good but is largely transient unlike positive emotions which endure. Positive emotions boost our levels of subjective well-being, cancel out negative emotions and contribute towards the belief that life is a purposeful and valuable experience. Resilient people find meaning in the lives they live.
- Develop gratitude and appreciation. People, generally speaking, are poor at predicting what will bring them true and meaningful happiness. Expressing gratitude, showing appreciation and focusing on what brings us joy as opposed to what frustrates, annoys or disturbs us helps build resilience. It does this through teaching us to recognise what brings us genuine happiness and that what makes us truly happy.
- Develop a SMART attitude to goal-setting. Having a clear view of where we are going keeps us focused and moving in the right direction. Our goals also need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Resilient people are not only able to identify possible obstacles to living a meaningful live but are capable of developing the skills needed to overcome them. They also have long-term goals, short goals and the ability to recognise and appreciate the success they experience on the road to success.
- Develop a flexible and adaptable attitude. Rigid, inflexible thinking that is inconsistent with reality keeps us stuck where we are. It’s also the kind of thinking that leads too unhelpful, unbeneficial self-talk – the internal dialogue that preoccupies us continuously. Rigid, inflexible thinking is the kind of thinking that leads people to believe that life is unbearable or intolerable. A resilient person accepts that life at times can be a challenge but these challenges are tolerable, bearable and they can be defeated.
- Develop a positive, optimistic explanatory style. Is your glass half-empty or half-full? It is of course neither one thing or the other. It’s a question of how you personally choose to see the glass. How we interpret, view or explain events or experiences is critically important to us. For example, are the difficulties we face caused by us, are a permanent part of our lives and all pervasive or not? Resilient people take responsible for their thoughts, feeling and actions. However, they are unlikely to blame themselves unnecessarily nor do they see bad things as infiltrating every aspect of their lives. They have perspective.
James Woodworth is a coach working in the area of psychological well-being with a particular interest in positive psychology. James has been helping people to thrive for over 25-years as a teacher, trainer, coach and, more recently as a Thrive Programme Consultant. He sees clients face-to-face at his clinic in Cambridge, UK, and throughout the UK and overseas via Skype. You can find out more about James and the Thrive Programme by visiting his website. You can also follow him on Twitter @
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